Seattle Mariners starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma made his long-awaited return last night against the Detroit Tigers at home. Iwakuma had not pitched since April 20 after going on the disabled list for a strain in his right lat muscle. Prior to the injury he struggled in his first three starts, giving up 12 earned runs in 16.1 innings. Unfortunately, even more than two months later, those struggles reappeared as the Mariners lost 12-5.
Iwakuma went five innings, giving up eight hits, five runs and striking out three. However, the most troubling aspect of the start was the home runs: He gave up four solo shots in the game, which was the first time he has ever done that in his career. Prior to going on the disabled list, Iwakuma gave up five home runs in his three starts, giving him an extremely high home run rate of 2.8 per nine innings. His previous career high was 1.2 in 2012. That rate is now up to 3.84. While it is still early, it is something Iwakuma must correct if he is going to find success in the rotation.
He started the first inning off well, making quick work of the top of the Tigers’ lineup on 13 pitches. But then in the second inning Iwakuma made his first mistake. He left a 77 mph slider up in the zone, which allowed Tiger third baseman Nick Castellanos to take him deep. The homers continued in the fourth inning when designated hitter Victor Martinez and right fielder J.D. Martinez hit back-to-back shots to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead. In the bottom of the fifth the Mariners struck back with a three-run shot by first baseman Logan Morrison to give the Mariners a 5-3 lead. However, in the next inning left fielder Yoenis Cespedes homered of Iwakuma, and after giving up a single to Victor Martinez, Iwakuma was pulled from the game.
The sixth ultimately proved disastrous for Seattle, as relief pitcher Mayckol Guaipe allowed Martinez to score, giving Iwakuma his fifth run, and then gave up three more runs. The Tigers tacked on four more in the seventh, and the Mariners could muster nothing else.
Iwakuma’s biggest problem was his inability to locate his pitches. Beside Castellanos’ homer, J.D. Martinez’s also came off a slider left up in the zone, and Victor Martinez’s and Cespedes’ homers both came off splitters that did not break low enough and stayed over the plate.
There were some encouraging signs though. Iwakuma did not leave all his splitters up. He got two of his three strikeouts on splitters and a few ground ball outs on them, including a key inning-ending double play in the fourth off the bat of center fielder Anthony Gose. He also was rather economical in his pitch count, making it through five innings on 62 pitches before being taken out in the sixth after 68.
After the game, Iwakuma said “Obviously, giving up four home runs is not good, but bottom line, I’m healthy. That’s a good sign. And I was able to make good pitches in certain situations,” according to The Seattle Times.
While it is certainly good news that Iwakuma showed no signs of pain or discomfort after his start, the Seattle Mariners need him to return to his 2013 All-Star form in order to help shore up their rotation behind six-time All-Star Felix Hernandez.
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